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No Difference between Red and White Wine, Study Finds Both Can Increase Breast Cancer Risk (dateline April 28, 2009)

A large study examining the effects of alcohol on breast cancer risk found no difference among red and white wines; in fact, both can increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, the researchers report. It had been thought that red wine might have some beneficial effect on breast cancer risk, but the study finds no such benefit from either type of wine. In the study, women who consumed more than 14 drinks-whether wine, beer, or liquor-per week had a 24 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer compared with non-drinkers.

"There is reason to suspect that red wine might have beneficial effects based on previous studies of heart disease and prostate cancer," stated lead author Polly Newcomb, Ph.D., M.P.H., head of the Cancer Prevention Program in the Public Health Sciences Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, in the Center's news release about the study. "The general evidence is that alcohol consumption overall increases breast-cancer risk, but the other studies made us wonder whether red wine might in fact have some positive value."

To conduct their study, the researchers interviewed 6,327 women aged 20 to 69 with breast cancer and 7,558 similarly aged women without breast cancer. The researchers asked the women about the frequency of alcohol consumption and what type of alcohol they consumed (e.g., red wine, white wine, liquor, beer) as well as questions about other breast-cancer risk factors, such as age at first pregnancy, family history of breast cancer, and post-menopausal hormone use. The frequency of alcohol consumption was similar in both groups, and equal proportions of women in both groups reported consuming red and white wine, according to the researchers.

The findings did not support any benefit on breast cancer risk from consuming alcohol. Those women who consumed 14 or more drinks per week, regardless of the type of alcohol had a 24 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer compared with non-drinkers.

"We found no difference between red or white wine in relation to breast-cancer risk. Neither appears to have any benefits," Newcomb stated. "If a woman drinks, she should do so in moderation - no more than one drink a day. And if a woman chooses red wine, she should do so because she likes the taste, not because she thinks it may reduce her risk of breast cancer."

Past studies have generally found a link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk. For example, in a 2002 study, researchers analyzed dietary and beverage habits of over 60,000 women and found that those who consumed alcohol had a 30% higher risk of developing breast cancer, compared to women who did not drink. Click here to learn more about this study.

However, alcohol consumption is only one of several risk factors for the disease. Other risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Advancing age
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Genetics (mutations of BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes)
  • Early menstruation (before age 12) or late menopause (after age 50)
  • Delayed childbirth (a first child after age 30) or never having children
  • Smoking
  • History of breast biopsies revealing pre-cancerous conditions (such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ, LCIS)

Physicians recommend that women become aware of the risk factors for breast cancer and follow the established guidelines for breast health. Those guidelines include monthly breast self-exams, regular clinical breast exams, and screening mammograms for women 40 years of age and older.

Additional Resources and References

  • This article references a March 9, 2009, news release by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center entitled "Chianti or chardonnay? It makes no difference when it comes to red versus white wine and breast-cancer risk, large study finds,"
  • The study is published in the March 2009 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention,
  • To learn more about risk factors for breast cancer, please visit